Thursday, November 08, 2012

A Forgotten Treasure Returns to Print

All true book lovers have that one favorite novel from way back when that has long since lingered out of print. You know, that single gem-of-a-book that has always been a favorite, yet remains relatively unheard of.

According to Phillip Pullman, the award-winning author of the celebrated children’s fantasy novel The Golden Compass, MacDonald Harris’s The Balloonist is one such read. First published in 1976, The Balloonist was nominated for the National Book Award and quickly became an international cult classic. The story, set in 1897, follows three men—Swedish scientist Gustav Crispin and his two traveling companions—as they set out in a hydrogen-powered balloon to be the first men to step foot on the North Pole. This richly imagined and gripping tale, much like the best of Jules Verne and Albert Sánchez Piñol blends Victorian science and sexual politics to brilliantly reinvent the Arctic adventure. Yet while the book was met with much acclaim, it has long since been unavailable in the United States. Until now.

            In his introduction to the long-awaited reprint of The Balloonist, Phillip Pullman expresses his praise for MacDonald Harris’s work and passionately writes of his excitement in seeing the classic tale returned to print: “MacDonald Harris (1921-1993) was the author of sixteen strikingly intelligent, interesting, and original novels, of which The Balloonist was probably the most successful. What amazes me, and has done so since I read this book when it came out in 1978, is that he’s not far better known.”

            “All his novels are extraordinarily interesting. And gripping, too: he knew how to arrest the attention and keep it, how to time the events of a narrative so that we can’t help turning just one more page.”

            “In The Balloonist, we see all of his qualities at their best….I hope that in the second voyage of publication, The Balloonist finds as many admirers as it deserves and that we shall see some more of this singular, elegant and witty novelist’s work restored to print. MacDonald Harris is too good to be neglected.”

Praise for The Balloonist:

“A delightful, quirky novel, "The Balloonist" is written in a dancing prose that matches the excitement of the enterprise.…When I finished reading, I found that I had put the heating on and wrapped a blanket around me. For a moment there I was quite ready to set out for the Pole myself.”
- Karin Altenberg, The Wall Street Journal
“A welcome reissue for this rich and strange novel which has languished in undeserved obscurity since narrowly missing the National Book Award in 1977 … much more, please.”
The Guardian

“Some will consider [The Balloonist] to be the great ‘find’ of this year … it is the first of Harris’ novels to be reissued: it would be a shame if others did not follow.”
 – The Literary Review

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